Lines of cars, piles of boxes, weepy parents, anxious students, packed quads, and an atmosphere of anticipation are all common sights on college campuses this time of year. Since the arrival of COVID-19, conversations about which roommate will bring the refrigerator and where can you find the best deal on X-Long twin sheets have been replaced with concerns regarding whether a student will step foot on campus at all, much less decorate their dorm room. Given the uncertainty of “campus life” this fall, many students, and parents, are faced with the question of whether or not the tuition tag is worth a virtual experience. Some families are opting to shelter in place and seek out online courses at local, and more affordable, institutions; community colleges, for example, are sure to see an uptick in enrollment. After all, why pay ten times the price for a virtual education? Colleges and universities are feeling the crunch and some are even offering Covid tuition discounts to keep students enrolled. Schools including Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown are offering reduced tuition rates to retain students.
For students ambivalent about online education, these discounts can help make the decision to pay for the virtual experience easier. Some students are worried that they will not be able to build solid relationships with peers and faculty, or that their online education will be subpar. However, online education can be a robust, quality, educational experience when properly designed and facilitated. Schools without as much experience delivering quality content online will struggle to keep students interested and engaged. However, schools, like many community colleges, that have a history of quality online content development and delivery, can be an excellent economical choice for students during COVID and beyond. After all, without the swanky dorm decor, manicured quads, and venerable architecture, even a 10% tuition discount might not be worth the added expense of attending four-year schools. Community colleges are among the pioneers of online delivery, and students choosing this option during the pandemic will not only make progress toward their degree, but also save a considerable amount of money.